After December’s mad dash to try to reach Dennis Yong’s 2006 record total of 582 species seen in Malaysia in one calendar year, I said I wouldn’t be following up with a repeat attempt at a Big Year this year, and for a while, I meant it! I enjoyed the slower, more relaxed pace of the first half of January. But as the weeks wore on, I started to miss the strategizing, and the challenge to push myself. Near the end of the month the symptoms were there – thinking about where I would need to go, counting how many potential ‘year-ticks’ I would get at different sites, working out what ‘priority species’ are available when, etc.
So here we are again – Big Year 2015! In case anyone else wants to join in, here are the ‘rules’ I am operating by:
1. The goal, obviously, is to see as many species of birds in Malaysia in 2015 as possible.
2. All birds must be SEEN. “Heard only” don’t count.
3. All species on the current Malaysia checklist are countable, even those in Categories C and D (i.e. exotics).
5. Any claims of new species for the national list must be submitted to the Records Committee to be countable.
Why do a Big Year?
First and foremost, because it’s fun! That’s my main motivation, and I won’t try to dress it up as something nobler than it is! Having said that, there are potential positive spin-offs:
- An even effort to see every species in the year should result in better overall coverage and representation of what’s out there
- Over time, if enough people start doing Big Years regularly, trends might emerge regarding what species are becoming easier or harder to see
- The effort to see every species raises awareness (at least on a personal level) of where and when species are most likely to be seen
In relation to the last point, it’s often the ‘less rare’ species that get missed. Last year, I failed to see Grey-capped Woodpecker, for example. When I asked around, few people could name a reliable site beyond “I saw one at xxx a few years ago.” Perhaps they are rarer than we think (at least in the Peninsula).
I spent most of my time around Penang, with the exception of one trip to Perlis and Kedah and some incidental birding in KL. Highlights of the month were Brahminy Starling, Manchurian Reed-Warbler, Richard’s Pipit and Oriental Skylark in Perlis, and Sakhalin Leaf-Warbler in Kedah – the latter a potential first record for the country. I was also glad to see Barred Buttonquail, a bird I failed to see at all last year! On the downside, due to my slow start, I failed to see Tufted Duck and Imperial Eagle within easy driving distance, and have yet to connect with Short-toed or Booted Eagle, which were both sighted in January or December by others. Generally, raptors seem scarce this year. By the end of the month I had seen 146 species – not spectacular, but a reasonable start given the opportunities I had to go out.